Chicago took its first win of the 2017 season, and it happened at home. The Bears faced the perennially contending Pittsburgh Steelers. The win actually happened twice in overtime, but the refs robbed Tarik Cohen of a touchdown. Still, Jordan Howard sealed the win with a run before all was said and done. Given the emotional roller coaster that was Sunday’s game, we’re here to help fans through the ups and downs. This time, Robert is going to provide the optimistic take on this victory, while Josh is going to offer
a more realistic depiction a few down notes, as well. Here is Windy City Gridiron’s Week 3 Overreaction.
Robert Zeglinski: I’m still shaking at the sheer emotion of Sunday. The Bears typically find a way to lose games like that with so many twists and turns.
And yet, they relied on a dominant ground game and two superstar runners to carry them through. Howard, sprained AC joint and all, wouldn’t be denied and played 41 snaps in clear agony en route to easily his best performance of the 2017 season so far, with 138 yards rushing and two scores. While Cohen was the typical electric spark you’d expect. The perfect change of pace runner. The Bears’ “Rumble Pak” is the only consistent offense Chicago can rely on, the Steelers knew they’d be coming, and they still wouldn’t be stopped to the tune of 266 scrimmage yards combined. That’s what made it all the more impressive. Howard and Cohen’s effort came on the heels of an offense with no threat of a passing game in dead heat and an elite team had no answer. This was a grind-it-out and explosive game all in one, won on the strength of the league’s best current running back duo. No hyperbole intended.
Josh Sunderbruch: We can’t let the fact that it all worked out in the end blind us to the truly terrible play by special teams. Let’s start with Marcus Cooper. After an amazing play by Sherrick McManis (you know, the guy fans around these parts all wanted to see get cut?), Cooper had a clean line, ran the ball back, and stopped around the 2-yard line. I don’t know which explanation is more disturbing, but I’ll let you tell me which one saves this. Either he is a professional football player who cannot tell where the endzone is (which as a corner is particularly disturbing) or he is a showboat who couldn’t be bothered to finish the play before overreacting. Either way, the Bears basically forfeited 4 points there, and it’s sort of amazing that they didn’t find a way to screw that up, too. After all, it’s not like Connor Barth established himself as a reliable kicker in this game.
Robert: There’s no excusing what Cooper did on that return. There’s no advanced analysis on film of any kind. That was a basic hustle play and pure football character taught at the pee wee levels that he failed to finish.
But, there’s two schools of thought in the immediate aftermath. You either immediately bench the player for such an egregious mistake. Or, keep him in the game and give him the opportunity to redeem himself. Which, after an up-and-down first half, Cooper did quite well in the second half to lock down anyone lining up across from him. He ended up allowing only one reception for 10 yards while being targeted nine times. Aside from Kyle Fuller, Cooper might have been the Bears’ best defensive back on the field on Sunday. Yes, that says a lot. This was a player determined to make up his tremendous blunder and it was emblematic of an overall resilient Bears team in response.
Let’s not lose the performance of Pro Bowl special teamer and Bears captain Sherrick McManis in the shuffle of that play either, as he was the one who blocked Steelers’ kicker Chris Boswell’s kick to set it up. He was also the one who recovered an early muffed punt by Eli Rogers. McManis was a consistent game changer on the third phase who in my mind effectively evened out the missed kick by Barth and gaffe by Cooper.
Josh: I have nothing against McManis. In fact, he probably saved the game. Relying on a 29-year-old special teamer to save the day is not a reliable strategy. I also just want to say that if it takes messing up to show resilience, then the Bears have had plenty of chances to show resilience, and a single blip on Sunday does not make up for years of struggles.
Speaking of struggles, I have to talk about Mike “the Statue” Glennon (side note: I like giraffes, and they are actually graceful animals in motion, so I prefer to avoid that nickname for No. 8). Glennon was bad. Let’s just forget the fact that his 74.2 passer rating and 2.5 ANY/A are truly disappointing, given the fact that he was all but gifted with a touchdown on an impressively short field. Instead, focus on how many of his whopping 101 yards actually came after the catch, usually after completing to running backs or to guys in the middle of the field (or to running backs in the middle of the field). It felt like about half of his 15 completions should have come with asterisks for the yards, and at least a third of them led men straight into danger. Glennon was not as good as his statline showed, and his statline was pretty awful.
Robert: It’s clear the Bears are deliberately limiting Glennon so as to not lose the game for the team. A measure of fear. It’s why Howard and Cohen touched the ball on 44 of Chicago’s 60 offensive plays.
But let’s give credit to Glennon where it’s due (or at least as much as we can). He did step into two nice throws to Markus Wheaton (a drop) and Zach Miller (a first down) and had two other drops by Dion Sims and Miller. He didn’t necessarily play much better than his stat line would suggest, but some Bears playmakers did leave plays on the field for their quarterback. If he’s still going to be entrenched as the starter, there’s no doubt he has to be so much better moving forward, and not solely rely on anyone he throws working for a superfluous amount of yards after the catch. He’s leaving plays and open receivers on the field with regularity. Something that can’t continue.
Josh: On the note of things that can’t continue, I have to bring up a note about ball security. Maybe Jordan Howard gets a pass because John Fox was busy running him into the ground (I wonder how many years of his career this one game cost him?). However, the Bears had five fumbles in this game. That’s ridiculous. This team was one Bobbie Massie recovery away from never seeing overtime.
Robert: Luck plays a huge factor in any game. It’s the way the ball bounces. The Steelers were fortunate that Cooper stopped short of the end zone on his return for one. It happens. (Though, yes, Glennon drops far too many snaps for my liking.)
Let’s talk about that Bears secondary though, which to me has been the most pleasant surprise of the early season and was definitely the most impressive against Pittsburgh. The group of Fuller, Cooper, Prince Amukamara, Quintin Demps, Eddie Jackson, and Bryce Callahan effectively locked down one of the NFL’s best offenses in the Steelers. Pittsburgh never established a real rhythm which is shocking considering they have Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Le’Veon Bell on their side. Ben Roethlisberger had just 235 yards passing and a mediocre 82.7 passer rating. And it was all because Chicago’s defensive backs simultaneously kept everything in front of them and played aggressively to boot all while coming up with disciplined pass breakups to limit big plays. Fuller’s huge hit on a short check down to tight end Jesse James was a symbol of who came to play on defense for an entire position group, and that secondary shined throughout.
Josh: That secondary needed to step up, because the front seven didn’t do their job. I am looking specifically at your favorite Bear, Leonard Floyd. Floyd’s strength and conditioning program has worked out so well that he has yet to record a single sack this season. When I think of the performance I want from the No. 9 overall pick in the draft, I don’t think “one tackle” for a stat sheet. I’m not sure when that tackle was, actually. Let’s admit it: Floyd’s best gift was his speed, and without it he’s a pedestrian linebacker asked to do a couple of things, none of them particularly useful. Sounds like a Bears first-rounder, doesn’t it?
Robert: Floyd still has his trademark speed. He’s just being overused and misused.
On the overuse note, which is far more important, Floyd has played 170 snaps through three games, playing almost 90 percent of the snaps in each Bears’ contest. The next closest Bears’ OLB is Willie Young at 90 played snaps. As far as the entire defense, only Jackson (192), Fuller (177), and Demps (177) have played more. Those three are all defensive backs with much less exertion in comparison to pass rushers too.
The fact of the matter is that the Bears know Floyd is their best defensive weapon and know they don’t have much behind him, and it’s clearly taking a toll. This quandary definitely places a huge bullseye on adding a young edge rusher in the off-season to compliment Floyd and at least offer him some kind of a spell of rest during games. Not even the established greats such as the Raiders’ reigning Defensive Player Of The Year in Khalil Mack are playing 90 percent of snaps during games. It’s asking too much.
As far as misuse, the Bears had Floyd drop back into coverage 11 times against the Steelers. Against such an explosive offense, you probably want one of your best athletes used more often in space. However that also neuters your pass rush as a whole given the first point of high snaps for Floyd. Yes, Pernell McPhee and Young recorded sacks yesterday but they’re playing much less and being asked to do much less in comparison to the Bears’ young bright dynamo.
As McPhee settles into a rhythm, and as the Bears begin to face more flawed offenses with worse offensive lines this year, the sacks and big plays will undoubtedly come for Floyd. He’s too talented and complete a player to stay down this long.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. Josh Sunderbruch is the numbers man and a writer for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow Robert on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.